Startup School Radio: YC's Michael Seibel on the Toughness of International Founders

In the latest episode of YC's Startup School Radio, a podcast that features stories and practical advice about starting, funding, and scaling companies, our host Aaron Harris first sat down with his fellow YC partner Michael Seibel, who talked about his experiences co-founding and Socialcam, and his work traveling around the world meeting startup founders. In the second half of the episode he interviewed Wade Foster, the co-founder of app integration platform Zapier, which launched out of YC's summer 2012 class.

You can hear the episode in its entirety on SoundCloud here and on iTunes here.

One especially interesting part of Michael's interview is when he talked about his focus on seeking out top startup founders internationally:

Aaron Harris: You've traveled all over the world meeting founders. I think you've probably traveled more widely than almost anyone I can think of in terms of meeting founders in different places... Are there different signs that you see in other places that aren't the valley, that are good indicators of people being committed and passionate?

Michael Seibel: You know what's really interesting? When I meet founders across the board in the States and outside of the States, I basically feel as though the ones that I'm really impressed by are the ones that don't let anything get in their way. And whether fortunately or unfortunately, for international founders, oftentimes, especially for startups, that means finding a path to America.

Aaron Harris: Interesting. Because there's more funding here? It's more accepted here? What is that?

Michael Seibel: There are two things I did not realize this about America until I left America. First of all, the terms and the amount of money available in America is massive.

Aaron Harris: And by "terms" you mean?

Michael Seibel: Meaning founder friendly terms for funding, for terms that don't deep-six your company from day one. The number of funds that can actually write a $10 million check on Sand Hill Road, just one road in Silicon Valley, is more than the number of funds that can write a $10 million check in all of Italy. And I bet that number's actually most countries in Europe. So that's the first thing. The second thing is America has a huge population that all speak the same language with the same culture.

Aaron Harris: Right. Yeah, there aren't a lot of homogeneous populations like that, that you can target. I mean, China's an example, but it's closed to anyone not in China. One of the things I think about when meeting international founders, they're often just tough to a level that you don't normally see of first time founders here, because I think they actually have to overcome so much more. If you're coming from India, from Delhi, rising above the other startups there, and then getting here, getting to us, you are just...

Michael Seibel: Well, it's about life. We have one founder from Colombia who, when he was growing up, there was violence. We had one founder who grew up in Croatia during the Balkan Wars.

Aaron Harris: Where half the country was leveled.

Michael Seibel: I mean, literally, I remember I was in Croatia visiting a founder and he told me this story about how up there in the hills somebody had a gun and was shooting down on this little valley that we were standing in. That was his life memory. So, yeah, they are tough.

Aaron Harris: And I think when we look at companies, one of the things we're trying to identify most is toughness.

Welcome Anne, Ben, and Joe!

I’m delighted to announce three new part-time partners.

Anne Wojcicki is the cofounder and CEO of 23andMe.  Anne is one of the world experts on biotechnology and healthcare companies; her guidance will be invaluable to the increasing numbers of these companies YC funds.

Ben Silbermann is the cofounder and CEO of Pinterest, and a two-time YC alumni.  Ben has an exceptional product sense, and is one of the more thoughtful people I’ve ever met when it comes to building a company and its culture. 

Joe Gebbia is the cofounder and CPO of Airbnb (YC W2009.)  He is also on the Board of Trustees at RISD, where he went to school.  He will help companies with any challenges they face, but especially with design.

Welcome to YC!

YC Fall 2015 College Tour

How do you come up with an idea?
What makes a great founding team?
How do you raise money from investors? 

Join YC partners and alumni at colleges around the country. Hear their stories and find out what it's really like to start a startup. You'll also have the chance to sign up for one-on-one office hours. 

9/19: Hack the North at the University of Waterloo
> 11am ET, Hagey Hall, University of Waterloo 
More Info and RSVP

9/25: YC at University of Michigan with MPowered
> 6pm ET, TechArb, 500 E Washington St #10, Ann Arbor, MI
> More Info and RSVP
> Sign up for office hours: Email

9/27: Startup@Brown 
> Alumnae Hall, 194 Meeting St., Providence RI
> 11:15am ET - UX Workshop with Kevin Hale, 12pm ET - Keynote
More Info 
> Sign up for office hours

9/28: YC at Harvard
> 7pm ET, Harvard Innovation Lab - Lobby Area, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA
> More info 

9/28-9/29: YC Office Hours in Boston
> Sign up for office hours 

9/30: YC at NYU
> 6pm ET, Stern School for Business, 44 West 4th, Room 5-90, New York, NY
> More info
> Sign up for office hours 

10/1: YC at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
> 5:30 CT, 1404 Auditorium in Siebel Center, 201 N Goodwin Ave, Urbana, IL
> More Info and RSVP
> Sign up for office hours

10/1: YC at Columbia University
> 7:30pm ET, Lerner C555, 2920 Broadway, New York, NY
> More Info and RSVP
> Sign up for office hours

10/6: YC at Carnegie Mellon University
> 5:30pm ET, Rashid Auditorium - Gates Hillman Center, Room 4401, 5000 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA
> More Info and RSVP
> Sign up for office hours

10/12: YC at Stanford University
> More Info and RSVP

Questions? Email

New Story Charity (YC S15) Rings the NASDAQ Opening Bell

New Story, the nonprofit that recently launched out of our Summer 2015 class that crowdfunds the building of new homes for families in need, rang the opening bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York City last week -- marking a big milestone for the company, and a first for a YC nonprofit. 

The ringing of the opening bell on September 8 coincided with the last day of New Story's 100 Homes in 100 Days campaign, which ended with a total of 103 homes being funded for families left homeless by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. New Story's aim is to change the status quo of traditional charities, with a fully transparent platform that lets donors see that their funds are being used to help the people who need aid.

Congratulations to New Story founders Brett Hagler, Matthew Marshall, Alexandria Lafci, and the rest of the team!

YC Open Office Hours for Black and Hispanic Founders

Startups are often best at solving the personal problems of their founders. The more diverse the founders, the more types of problems can be solved -- and the more people who will be positively impacted by technology.

As a result, we're piloting a program called "Open Office Hours". We are reaching out to underrepresented communities in the startup world and giving them direct access to YC.  They can ask us questions, get advice, and grow their network.

Each company who participates will get 20 minute office hours with a YC partner. They can do them in person at our office in Mountain View, CA or remotely on Skype.

Our first Open Office Hours event will happen on 9/24-25.  We will start with Black and Hispanic founders and if successful we hope to launch future Open Office Hours for Women, Veterans, and International founders. 

We'll start taking sign-ups on Wednesday 9/16. For this pilot we'll be starting with 50 slots.  Learn more and apply by following this link:

The deadline to apply is Monday 9/21.

Echo Locker (YC S13) Acquired by Microsoft

Echo Locker, the startup that makes a popular app for personalizing the lockscreen on Android devices, has been acquired by Microsoft. Echo Locker launched out of YC in our Summer 2013 class as Prim, and later turned its focus to the Echo product in July 2014.

In an interview with Business Insider's Matt Weinberger, Microsoft's Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green praised the Echo lockscreen app for helping take "productivity to the next level" and allowing users to stay "in the moment."

According to Business Insider, the Echo app will continue to be a standalone product for the time being, though its technology will be incorporated into future Microsoft products: "A lot of what Microsoft comes up with via the Next and Echo lockscreens will make it back to Windows 10, Office, and any other Microsoft product that sends out notifications," Weinberger reported.

Congratulations to Echo's co-founders Xuwen Cao and Yin Yin Wu.

YC at Hack the North

Y Combinator partners and alumni will be at Hack the North at the University of Waterloo on Saturday, September 19. 

Join us for a panel on how to "Do Things That Don't Scale" or sign up for one-on-one office hours with a YC partner or alum.

Y Combinator Presents: "Do Things That Don't Scale" at Hack the North
Sat, Sept 19, 2015 from 11am-12:30pm ET
Hagey Hall, University of Waterloo
RSVP for non-Hack the North attendees only (Hack the North attendees have reserved seating already)

Office Hours with YC partners and alumni
Sat, Sept 19, 2015 from 2pm-5pm ET
Office hours will be 20 minutes each. If you're selected, we'll reach out with your time slot, who you'll be meeting with, and the location.
Sign up by 9am on Thursday, September 17

See you there! 
- YC Team

YC Digest - September 4-September 10

Top Stories from the YC World - September 4-September 10, 2015


YC Alum


Startup School Radio: Pigeonly's Frederick Hutson On The Importance Of Early Believers

In the latest episode of YC's Startup School Radio, podcast that features stories and practical advice about starting, funding, and scaling companies, our host Aaron Harris first sat down with his fellow YC partner Qasar Younis. In addition to being YC's newly-appointed COO, Qasar has also founded several companies, including TalkBin, the Winter 2011 alum that went on to be acquired by Google.

You can listen to the full hour-long episode on SoundCloud here or on iTunes here.

In the second portion of the episode, Aaron interviewed Frederick Hutson, the co-founder and CEO of W15 alum Pigeonly, the company that provides affordable communication services for prison inmates to connect with their families. In one interesting part of Frederick's interview, he talked about the challenges of talking to Silicon Valley investors about inmate services, which is a problem many of them aren't well acquainted with:

Frederick: What I quickly learned as I was talking to folks [about investing in Pigeonly], there were some biases. One was that they just couldn't wrap their brains around the system, because the problem we were solving was so far removed from what they understood. There wasn't any prejudice or anything against me as an individual, but it was just, 'I literally can't wrap my brain around this problem to even know if it's real or not.' And that's the biggest thing when we talk to most people, is that I have to spend a lot of time educating them on the problem that we're solving, and then we can move forward to even talk about the business. That's how we were able to weed out and find out the people who were interested in it.

Our early group of believers, they really turned and set the stage for everyone else. So then when people saw our base, and they saw Erik [Moore from Base Ventures, one of the early investors in Zappos], and they saw [Mitch] Kapor, then we started getting a lot of the other people saying, 'Okay, maybe they know something and we trust them. So we'll go along with them.' 

Aaron: ...So it's been a couple months out of YC, and so just as a parting piece of wisdom, what did you take from YC back to the company that's driving you forward now? Like what's the thing that, for Pigeonly, is the core lesson that you need to keep pushing on that's going to drive your business?

Frederick: I think focus. I think focus is highly important, because there's so many things that you can be doing, and it's easy to get distracted. And, also, I think the second lesson for me that's really...we picked up from one of the speakers is focusing on what our driving metric is.

So for us it's constant, weekly communication. And we made that the core of our business. We made that the core of our meetings. And now everything we do our question is, 'Is this going to drive more consistent weekly communication for our user base?' And that's really helped us, and helped us make some hard decisions, to really do the right thing at the right time.

YC Digest August 28 - September 3

Top Stories from the YC World - August 28-September 3, 2015

YC News

Startup School Radio: Bannerman CEO Johnny Chin On Getting Into The Minds Of Your Users

Startup School Radio: Bellabeat's Urska Srsen On Not Overthinking It At The Beginning

Startup School Radio: YC's Geoff Ralston On Learning As You Go


Why it's Safe for Founders to Be Nice by Paul Graham

YC Alum

Julia Kurnia of Zidisha (YC W14): How Non-Profit Used Tech Startup Tactics to Build a Microlending Marketplace

Cofactor Genomics (YC S15) plans to analyze cRNA for consumer diagnostics

How Zapier (YC S12) Went From Zero to 600,000+ Users in Just Three Years

Former Visa CEO Joins Kash (YC S14)

Weave (S14) Named One of Business Insider's 25 Hottest Under-The-Radar Tech Startups in America